The City of Austin is enforcing its ban on jaywalking. Yes, jaywalking sometimes poses a high threat to drivers and the pedestrians themselves. No pedestrian should cross a high-speed freeway like I-35, for example -- people are really bad at estimating the closing speed of a vehicle traveling the length of a football field every three seconds. Pedestrians who misjudge traffic not only risk their own lives, but the lives of the drivers who swerve to avoid them.
But if the City really intends to enforce a ban on mid-block crossings of interior, arterial streets, it needs to give pedestrians a reasonable option. The City leaves them with no reasonable choice on many of its "urban" streets -- unless one counts forsaking the walk altogether and hopping in a car as a reasonable alternative.
Take South Lamar. It is one of the two main arterials through south Austin. It is one of the busiest arterials in Austin, with (2009) weekday traffic counts of 36,000-40,000 along the main segment. It is a major bus route. It has a dense concentration of businesses both small and large on both sides of the street. Property owners along the street have been investing in their properties, refurbishing and remodeling old stores or tearing them down for new, more pedestrian-friendly buildings. New restaurants, bars, barber shops, coffee shops and pharmacies are springing up on either side.
But the street is still signaled as if it were a semi-rural county road. The 2.5 stretch of South Lamar from Barton Springs to Panther Trail has just nine stoplights, including the lights at Barton Springs and Panther Trail. Stoplights -- and thus crosswalks -- are spaced an average of 1,650 feet (0.31 miles) apart. In some places, the lights are spaced nearly half a mile apart:
A pedestrian who wants to make a "midblock" crossing between, say, Hether and Lamar Sq. has a choice: he can wait for a break in the traffic and dash the eighty feet across the street, or he can walk 1000 or so feet to the nearest light, wait through the signal, and trudge the 1000 feet back. A 10 second dash or a 6-7 minute, roundabout walk? It's an easy choice, particularly when its 105 degrees. For those whose walk would start and end mid-block, a ban on jaywalking is a ban on walking.
The City is spending or plans to spend millions of dollars on grand plans to refashion East Riverside Drive and Airport Boulevard as pedestrian-friendly, mixed-use thoroughfares. That's great, but it shouldn't irngore the low-hanging fruit. It needs to begin treating urban arterials like urban arterials.
South Lamar's spontaneous redevelopment (3/22/07)
Baby steps toward new urbanism (4/21/08)